Taylor Bradford displays a few of the jewels she hasn’t auctioned
Forget the erotic scenes in 50 Shades Of Grey, veteran best-selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford wants you to know she writes them better. “My books are quite sexy, you know,” says the writer, 81, best known for her fi rst novel, the rags-to-riches period blockbuster A Woman Of Substance from 1979.
“I get women coming up to me all the time saying specifically, ‘Barbara, I love your sex scenes!’”
The indomitable Taylor Bradford is in the UK for the publication this month of her 30th novel: aristocratic family story The Cavendon Women. “It doesn’t seem possible I have written so many books, nearly a novel a year,” muses the Leeds-born, New York-based author from her luxury suite at London’s Dorchester hotel, her base on visits back here.
“But Sir Terry Pratchett wrote twice as many books as me so compared to him it’s not very much at all. It was so very sad he got a form of Alzheimer’s, that is such a terrible thing to happen to a writer. I was a great admirer.”
Taylor Bradford has worked since she was an ambitious 15-year-old typist at a Yorkshire newspaper and by 18 she was women’s editor before heading to Fleet Street aged 20. “Yes I’m 81 but I feel 49. I know I look much younger too,” she declares with no false modesty.
“I’ve no plans to retire, why should I? I don’t know anything else but writing books and what else could I do? I’m not a big shopper, I’m not a fan of lunch dates with other women. I just like to work and writing keeps my brain active and alert.”
A TV version of A Woman Of Substance starring Jenny Seagrove
Her advice to budding novelists is simple: lie. “Basically, as a novelist, I’m inventing people,” she says. “When people tell me they want to write novels, I say, ‘Can you tell lies?’ A novel is a monumental lie but it needs the ring of truth if is going to succeed.”
Taylor Bradford’s “lies” have served her well. Her debut novel sold more than 30million copies and is among the top 10 bestselling novels of all time. Her work has netted her a reported £188million fortune.
Her youthful peaches-and-cream appearance is due to a mixture of good genes and looking after herself. She compares herself to her friend Joan Collins. “Joan and I have a lot in common – we are both 81 but we don’t look it and are lucky to be in good health.
“Joan has this saying, which I agree with, ‘Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless of course you happen to be a bottle of wine’.
“It’s true some of us don’t wear as well as others but I work at it. I do it for myself and I like to look nice for my husband. I look after myself. I don’t take pills other than vitamins. I look after my skin. I always take off my make-up at night.
“I have never been a big drinker. I might have the occasional glass of champagne. I stopped smoking 40 years ago. I eat carefully. I keep fit. “I use various creams on my face and I do have Botox in my forehead. I started frowning a lot from when I worked in newspapers. Now I have a nice smooth forehead.
Barbara with husband Bob and Joan Collins
I am also a fan of being kind and nice to other people. Smile and be nice
“I like to see people who are well groomed. Other people respond to you better if you are looking neat and well turned out. I am also a fan of being kind and nice to other people. Smile and be nice.
“As for exercise I bought a book called Get Up! by a doctor and it frightened me because it says sitting down is very bad for you and of course I sit down all day writing. So now I go out for a walk every day and I eat my lunch standing up.”
She has lived in New York since her marriage to fi lm producer Bob Bradford 52 years ago. Her new book, the second in a trilogy, is based on stately home Cavendon Hall, occupied by the Earl of Ingham, his family and their retainers the Swanns. The fi rst book was set in 1913, the current one in 1926 and the as yet untitled fi nal one in 1938.
Comparisons to Downton Abbey have been made but Taylor Bradford isn’t happy about them. “I don’t want people to think I’ve copied Julian Fellowes. I haven’t,” she says fi rmly.
“I wrote family dynasty stories long before him with A Woman Of Substance and its sequels, plus my Ravenscar books. The only similarity is that it’s a family saga set in a big house.”
One thing the Cavendon books do have in common with Downton is that they are set to be televised – produced, like previous BTB small screen ventures, by Taylor Bradford’s husband.
The Cavendon series also features the return of A Woman Of Substance heroine, the servant-turned-retail-magnate Emma Harte. Emma is mentioned in passing in the fi rst two books but will become a fully rounded character in the fi nal part of the trilogy.
“People have been begging me for years to bring back Emma and now she will be in the third book and in a bigger way. Readers can’t get enough of her.”
TAYLOR BRADFORD is very much a woman of substance herself. As well as the millions amassed from her novels, her German-born New Yorker husband is wealthy in his own right and has shown his love for her by showering her with gifts of precious jewellery.
“I’m not the kind of woman who has ever had to buy her own jewellery. Before Bob there was my father. It gives Bob pleasure and I’m very lucky.”
Her husband has in fact given her so much jewellery that at the end of 2013 she auctioned off 40 items of the more outré 1980s pieces which raised more than £1million – to go in trust for two of her (unnamed) female heirs. The couple have no children.
“Bob told me, ‘Do what you want to do with them if you don’t wear them’,” she explains. He still buys her jewellery nevertheless. Clearly it is a happy marriage.
“Bob is the apple of my eye. He is a good person. I am lucky. He has always supported me.
“Of course we have our little spats and disagreements but we don’t carry grudges. Other women love Bob too, they really do. He is a champion of the independent woman warrior. Emma Harte was one and so am I, I hope. I’m that kind of woman.” She certainly is.
To order The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford (HarperCollins, £16.99) call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562310.